Remember those first grainy, black-and-white baseball clips of the old-time greats? Maybe Shoeless Joe, or some other legend of the game’s more idyllic times?
At a pace defying the inherent leisure of a game of catch, due in large part to archaic means, they quickly snared each pass in their tiny mitts and fired it back without a moment to spare. Baseball seemed so pure and wonderful in those fast-forward moments.
Former Deering High and current Nova Seafood shortstop Matt Powers has a much bigger glove, but he’s that throwback-type of player. He looks like he belongs on a baseball field, and he plays that way, too.
In this thinking man’s game, Powers is consistently thinking one step ahead of the opposition, and he’s blessed with incredible instincts that take his game to an entirely different level. He’s always in the right place at the right time. Turn your back for a second and he’ll steal the next base standing up. It’s evidence of his knowledge of the game and a desire to help the team win.
It’s true Powers hates to lose, and while winning three consecutive Class A state championships, the Deering Rams rarely did. In one of the more incredible statistical accomplishments in Maine baseball history, the Rams have won 50-straight countable games dating back to May of 2007, this group’s sophomore campaign.
That’s borderline ridiculous.
Through all of this, Powers has been the league’s best shortstop on the league’s best team, and at the core of what has been a dynastic run of baseball excellence. Powers is a slick shortstop, a smooth fielder with great hands and arm strength that’s almost surprising given his lean frame. He makes every routine play, makes the tough ones look easy and turns in spectacular plays with regularity.
And he does it with the grace and style that only the great shortstops display. That off-balance throw on the run. The flip to second, or the leap over a spikes-high baserunner while in the act of going to first for the second out.
“Matt is so consistent,” said Deering teammate Jack Heary. “He’s a smart player. He’s a competitor and he never stops hustling. He’s a great base runner. And at shortstop, day-in and day-out he does it better than anyone else.”
At the top of the Deering order, Powers does his job as well, if not better, than any player in the lineup. He hits for high average and he’s always on base. He turns singles into doubles, doubles into triples and few go from first to third better (just ask a good coach). He might be the third fastest player on his team, but he steals second with uncommon ease and more or less walks to third base once he does.
Above all, Powers scores runs. He led the league in runs scored his junior season and finished second this year to sophomore teammate Sam Balzano. If Powers doesn’t get on base and steal second, the power hitters in the lineup can’t drive him home. He does his job so they can do theirs, and he’s just fine with his role.
“This team has been on the field together for so long that we all know what we’re supposed to do,” said Powers. “We almost know what each other is thinking. We’re a bunch of Portland kids that grew up together. We happen to be from the same neighborhood. Most of us played T-ball together. It’s like once we got that taste of winning we never looked back. We all have a real passion for the game. We want to win and we never care who gets the credit.”
His track record in the biggest game of the year highlights just how important Powers was to this Deering team. In state game play, Powers had a pair of hits and scored twice in the Rams’ 11-4 win over Bangor his sophomore season. He had a pair of hits and scored a run in the Rams’ epic 8-7 win over Brewer his junior season, a game in which he also pitched 3.2 innings of one-run baseball in a pivotal stint of middle-inning relief. He walked twice and scored a run in this season’s 2-1 state game victory over Cony, and was called in from shortstop to record the final out of the Deering championship trilogy. Like all great players, he has that knack for playing big when it matters the most.
“First and foremost, Matt is the ultimate competitor,” said longtime teammate Marc Ouimet. “If its bases loaded with two outs, he wants the ball. He wants to be in there and get that last out for us. If it’s bases loaded and two outs, he wants to be up at the plate. He wants to be right in the middle of the game. He rises to those occasions and embraces the challenge. He’s never satisfied.”
The reality of baseball is that to truly excel at it one has to love the game. There’s so many small details and nuances that it takes considerable time and effort to gather and process it all.
“It’s more than just a game to me,” said Powers. “I wrote my college acceptance essays about baseball. There are so many life lessons to be learned. The game reflects on things that really happen. You need to be consistent so people can rely on you. That’s how you earn the trust of teammates, friends and co-workers.”
It doesn’t hurt to have someone to lean on along the way, to talk you through the good days and bad days, and for lack of a tougher word, nurture the love of the game. Powers has always had that part taken care. His father, Mark Powers, won a state game on the hill for Deering back in the early 80s, and went to play for John Winkin at the University of Maine.
In fact, Dad’s 16 career saves still rank fifth all-time at Orono. His older brother Mike was a dominating pitcher for the Rams on the 2003 and 2004 state championship teams, posting an undefeated record for his entire high school career. For the legendary 2004 Nova Seafood American Legion national championship team, Mike Powers took the ball every other day and went 33-0. Like Dad, he continued his pitching days at UMaine, but transferred to Southern Alabama after his sophomore season.
“It sounds like a cliché,” said Matt Powers. “But I really do have baseball in my veins. My great grandfather, grandfather, father and brother all played. My little brother is on his way up and he’s going to be something else. We just always seemed to have a baseball with us. What I remember the most is playing catch with my dad, or wiffle ball games in the backyard. It’s just what we like to do. It connects us and brings us all closer together.”
For true baseball fans, Powers is simply fun to watch, and there’s much more baseball to come from this shortstop. After one final run this summer chasing the Nova Seafood immortality of older brother’s 2004 season, Powers will move on to the next level and bring that slick glove and relentless offensive attack to Ed Flaherty and the University of Southern Maine. There will be another job waiting for him there, but even with different players for the first time it will be mostly the same.
Powers will do it and he’ll do it very well. That part is guaranteed. The old throwback shortstop with a game for any century will rise to the occasion. He always does.